Sylvia the Seamstress

Rosie the Riveter, meet Sylvia the Seamstress

By Oretta Croushore, Property Manager for Home Rental Services.

Gas is cheap, people are baking bread, stores are rationing certain foods and household items, and dining room tables are covered in board games and jigsaw puzzles where the family gathers.

Do you see that Norman Rockwell painting, circa 1941, in your head? Take another look at that picture. The bread is being baked in an Instant Pot. The grocery delivery lady is at the door with the allowed limit of 2 paper products. Dad pushes his long hair out of his eyes as he goes out to help unload the rest of the groceries from the delivery lady’s Prius. Mom, daughter, and son are all sporting messy buns and skinny jeans. There’s a smartphone in every hand.

Six months ago, I would never have guessed I would be  writing this from my home office. The office the guinea pig so generously agreed to share with me. Or that Romeo and I would be sharing our office with my daughter. I never expected my “work shoes” to be koala slippers. Let’s not discuss the hair situation throughout my house. We are most certainly living through history. 

A Modern Day War Effort.

I keep making mental comparisons to the war efforts my grandparents made on the home front during WWII. Rosie riveted; I am mastering Zoom. Grandma planted Victory Gardens; I buy from those who can plant and grow. Grandpa bought war bonds; I participate in Takeout Tuesday to help support my local restaurants. 

Many WWII-era Americans moved to boom towns to find work; we stay at home to keep ourselves and others safe. They dealt with ration points; I’m getting insider tips about when toilet paper will be available at Walmart. They tied a yellow ribbon ‘round the old oak tree; I send texts and funny memes to keep those I love, laughing. I’m not sure my grandmothers would feel I was doing all I could.  

I am passionate about crafting and creating.

My favorite pastime is crocheting. It’s usually my go-to when I’m feeling anxious. I was surprised to find this kind of anxiety could not be cured with yarn. I was constantly worrying about the safety of everyone and feeling guilty for all I had. What could I possibly do that would actually help anyone? The answer came to me via Facebook; There’s a mask shortage.

Those who could sew had been called to duty. 

I have a sewing machine, an embarrassing fabric stash, and a fair amount of know-how! I’d found my war effort. Step aside Rosie, this is a job for Sylvia the Seamstress!

I’m lucky enough to have my mom in our house right now. She is my forever ride or die girl! I say “Mom, you wanna do this, try this, make this, with me?” She enthusiastically joins me in whatever hair brained scheme I manage to come up with. 

Photos by Poppy Croushore

Supplies and partner at the ready,  next, I needed a recipient.

I always seem to miss the boat on charity crafting. When you tell crafters you need something, they jump on it. I didn’t get a chance to crochet for the injured koalas in Australia. By the time I got to sit down and start, they were so overwhelmed by donations, they had more supplies than animals.

I decided to check in with my friend, Amanda, who works in an assisted living facility. Many of her patients have Alzheimer’s and dementia. They have been cut off from physical family contact. Amanda said they still had supplies at the facility. She asked us to make her a few masks so her patients could see something more interesting than the bland, yellow mask that has covered her face for so long.

Amanda is one of the most selfless people I have ever known. She takes care of everyone she knows and never asks for anything for herself. She loves the little Disney alien, Stitch – you know, the guy that looks like a blue koala and likes Elvis songs? I found some fabric covered with Stitch and started making masks. We made nine assorted designs for her and she was thrilled. And we were hooked.  

We dug out all the fabric from our stash.

Elastic is in short supply, so we had to improvise. We found those elastic headbands to be the perfect size. One headband makes two ear loops. As a bonus, we found them in packs of 12 and 7 at the dollar store. The first trip, I bought enough packs that I had around 30 bands. I didn’t want to clear out the shelves like the toilet paper hoarders have done. Eventually, I couldn’t find them at the stores and had to order a case from Dollar Tree. In case you are wondering, I received a gross of headbands. 

We started our endeavor planning to donate to the front line workers. Once it started to become clear how important personal protection was, we started handing them out to friends and family. Then, as people found out we were making them, they started to ask if they could buy some from us.

Photos by Poppy Croushore

Taking money for these masks didn’t feel right to us.

We want people to be safe and protected. Mask-making has been a labor of love for me, it’s been a way to bond with my mom, and it’s made us feel like we’re doing our part.

When one of my colleagues heard me talking about our project, he asked if he could buy fabric for me. I admitted I had a lot of fabric but most of it was left over from making things for my daughter when she was younger. Though my husband wears his Sponge Bob Square Pants mask with pride, not all guys are into that. So, Jason ordered some fabric for me. He gifted me with Star Wars, Marvel comic books, stars and stripes, and several other fun patterns. I can’t tell you how full my heart was the day he brought a big package of fabric to my front porch!

In all, we have made about 90-100 masks.

Many of them went to Amanda’s assisted living facility, as they have now run out of supplies. In addition, we have supplied friends, family, and coworkers. Every stitch released a bit of my anxiety. Every mask is sewn with love (and maybe a few four letter words).

My grandma painted on her pantyhose, gathered scrap metal, and went to work in the munitions plant. I sewed face masks and repurposed elastic headbands. Everyone’s war effort is a little different but I am thankful I found mine.